Tag Archives: Independent Schools

Student/Community Success in Action

For me, this year at Parish has been about pride and wonder.

As a parent, we’ve all witnessed moments when our children achieve a new level of capability, mastery or autonomy. Sometimes, we witness this firsthand. A five year old, for example, plays alone contentedly for the better part of an hour without needing a parent’s companionship or guidance, or the absent-minded early teen carries out her chores without a note or admonition reminding her to do so.

Other moments of a child’s inspired competence arrive as small gifts bestowed by others. A teacher notes how your 9th grader, who at home ordinarily displays the diplomacy of a dictator, served as an invaluable mediator between two quarrelling friends. Or your friend conveys how assured she feels knowing her daughter carpools with your young driver, who demonstrates such discretion and good judgment behind the wheel.

We are proud when these moments come because, in these instances, we see the return on the investments we have made in our children. The values we have taught and modeled at home, the educational opportunities we have afforded, and the enriching experiences we’ve exposed our students to represent important inputs which, in these special moments, appear to have produced a contributing member of society. #Success!

Often, wonder accompanies these moments, because the correlation between our inputs and the agency displayed by our child is much harder to decipher. We may find ourselves thinking, “Where did he learn to do that so well?!” Before our eyes, he presents as a better version of himself, better than we could have ever envisioned him becoming. And it appears to have happened independent of our efforts, our worries and our influence.

Later this month, Parish graduates its ninth class and concludes its 12th year since expansion. As my 6th year anniversary approaches, I see Parish with the same adoring pride and wonder which accompanies parenthood.

Signs of the School’s growth and ascendance present themselves to me each day on campus. Increasingly, though, they are being recognized and affirmed by others.

Rover Team

The Independent Schools Association of the Southwest (ISAS) reaccredited Parish in 2009 and this February performed a scheduled mid-term review (our accreditation is renewed every 10 years). Their written report noted, in part, “that the School’s continuous improvement is remarkable,” citing a litany of evidence including a 1116% increase in the School’s endowment balance since 2009; “great progress in the definition, maturation and launch of a myriad of signature programs” such as the Academy of Global Studies, ParishLeads and the MyPanther e.portfolio; and the creation of over 14,000 square feet of “Maker” robotics and design spaces.

The Edward E. Ford Foundation recently presented another gift of affirmation. As you may have read in our recent news, Parish was one of only four schools nationally to be awarded the prestigious Foundation’s Educational Leadership Grant. Parish had previously applied to the Foundation twice, only to be denied. These rejections significantly reduced the likelihood of the Foundation awarding us one of its largest, $250,000 matching grants. After visiting campus for a day in January and meeting with students, faculty members and administrators, however, the Foundation’s Executive Director noted Parish’s strong culture, innovation disposition and leadership in building a network among other schools and universities in the Metroplex. He described it as “a new day” at Parish and the Foundation’s generous award followed.

Increasingly this year, as I interacted with prospective parents, community leaders or visitors to campus, many offered unsolicited observations similar to those of ISAS and the Ford Foundation. Perhaps you have heard it, too: the acknowledgement of the Parish community asserting and demonstrating its unique identity and capability with confidence.

_DSC8649_DSC8864Feedback like this brings great pride because I know the intentional inputs which have yielded the results: a committed board of trustees; innovative administrators; richly talented faculty members; and supremely supportive and unified parents.

Each day, however, I am also filled with wonder. Even with these intentional investments, what our students accomplish, through their God-given talent, concerted effort and genuine goodness, exceeds expectation. Given the incredible opportunities of our now even richer and more matured programming, our students produce work in the academic, artistic and athletic arena which inspires and amazes. #Success indeed!

The Latest Divide

Recently I’ve wondered whether we educators now face our latest if not greatest philosophical divide.

Earlier this month, Sweet Briar College officials announced the 114 year old women’s college in rural Virginia would cease operations at year’s end. The college’s financial circumstances had been in freefall since 2009, despite the favorable window-dressing of a 94 million dollar endowment in fiscal year 2014.

In late February, the National Association of Independent Schools – of which Parish is a member – held their annual conference in Boston. Though unable to attend, I followed the conference Twitter feed and read summaries of several of its major presentations. The conference featured a self-explanatory theme, “Design the Revolution: Blending Learning, Leading, and Innovation,” and keynote sessions to provoke thinking, conversation, and action among the representatives from its 1,500 member schools. On the surface, the conference challenged independent school leaders to consider the sustainability of our model and the practices which shape it. We operate today in an environment of dizzying change, ever-escalating tuitions and heightened competition. How might our schools improve the preparation we afford our students and enhance our value proposition by leveraging the new opportunities presented by seismic changes in information technology and capitalizing on the autonomy afforded by our independence?

But here lies the cusp of the divide, at least as I perceive it.  I wonder who among my independent school colleagues left the conference with an altered mindset. Who senses that the next generation for tuition-bearing institutions like ours will be fundamentally different, and perhaps more perilous, than any previous era?  Of my peers, how many would characterize the necessity to change our model as nothing short of urgent?

On the one side of this divide stand those – myself included – who feel tremendous urgency and see incredible opportunity to rethink many of the time-worn paradigms for how we “do school.”  Those on the other side of the chasm view calls for transformational change as alarmist at worst or, more benignly, riddled with so much complexity and uncertainty as to inhibit action.

At the NAIS conference, the Association’s President, John Chubb, noted that “independent schools are facing some tough realities. No matter where your school is in the process of addressing new realities, it is important for you to be prepared for anything —especially the opportunities.”  The conference also featured a panel of higher education leaders, whose institutions feature a business model similar to those of independent schools. The Presidents agreed that “the business model of higher education is broken and will need to be fixed.”  One university leader went so far as to ask whether education might “change in the same way the music industry changed with new technologies” and as a result became “affordable, unbundled, [and] accessible.”

I know several of my colleagues embrace such challenging thinking and have taken steps to shift practices. But I also know others whose mindset mirrors that of an educator from the northeast who emailed me in the wake of the NAIS conference.  He was a candidate for a position at Parish. Around the business of his candidacy, he opined about his experience at the conference. “Some of it,” he noted, “was the usual headliners saying outrageous things about the future of education that no one is seriously going to act on (italics added); others were really thoughtful, practical, and helpful and presented ideas and practices that I suspect a lot of people are discussing this week back at their schools.”

I placed him on the other side of the divide.  Perhaps unfairly, I concluded he would categorize any talk of tenuously sustainable independent schools as “outrageous” and view experimentation with new models for tomorrow’s independent schools with similar diffidence. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I concluded further conversation about a position at Parish was not a good idea.

A respected colleague of mine posted a compelling question in light of the Sweet Briar announcement: “Outlier or Omen?”  It encapsulates perfectly the philosophical divide I’ve experienced anecdotally as of late. Today’s educator needs to make room amidst the valid and worthwhile philosophical conversations pervading our campuses – about math programs, literary canons, or foreign language offerings – for an even more fundamental discussion on which side of this divide each of us and our schools stand.